You’re Not Helping

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A contested election. Out of control pandemic numbers. Unemployment. Turmoil.

These are the times we are living in right now. As I write this, there are more people in the hospital with Covid-19 than at any point in the pandemic. In El Paso, there are more people hospitalized than there are in several states. Grim warnings about the holidays and the danger they pose make our regular family get togethers even more complicated. Everything feels so out of control, because it mostly is.

There are some things we do have control over. One of these is your reaction to those who have family members who are fighting the coronavirus or have a family member who died from it. I can’t promise I have always had the correct reaction to news of this sort, but my own experience with this, and with my experience many years ago when my mother was dying of cancer, helped me understand some of the things you shouldn’t say.

I have sadly listened as friends and family members have recounted some of the callous things people have said to them. “Did they take HCQ? That might have helped them.” “How do you know they really died from Covid? The doctors are lying about it to make money.” Or the always classic, “I don’t think that is what (insert family member’s name here) died from. People are putting that on death certificates because they hate Trump.”

Even if every one of these statements were valid (and I can assure you, they’re not), what in the world would make you think this is comforting to grieving people?

When my mother died from cancer, she was 50. A beautiful, elegant and quiet woman, she really never looked a day over 40. I was 21 when she died, and now that I am older, I understand even better how young she really was and how much of her life was snuffed out by cancer. I remember the words of well meaning friends that, in their efforts to say something comforting, instead said things that were tortuous at the time. For example:

“Your mom looks so good. Surely she isn’t really that sick (said two days before her death).” “Well, you knew her death was coming, right? That must have helped.” “Don’t you think your mom would want you to move on after her death? She wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

I could give you more, but you get the idea. I truly believe all of the things people said were said out of love and trying to help, but the truth is, there are no words, no pat answers, that can make the grief and helplessness better. What most people meant to help usually came off as dismissive. The only things people said that were of comfort were things like, “I love you and your family.” “I’m so sorry.” or, “I thought a lot of your mom. I am praying for you all.”

Relating all of this to the comfort of our friends and acquaintances who are going through Covid in a more personal way than you are: if you truly want to comfort someone, but don’t know what to say: nothing is better than saying something you shouldn’t. Relating how most of the people you know that had Covid were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms only makes things worse. Asking tons of specific questions about treatment is often exhausting to the person answering all of those questions. And if you are going to bring up your own politicized views about covid to a grieving person, just go ahead and slap them in the face while your saying them, because that is exactly what it feels like.

If you really want to help someone, and we now all know someone who has lost a loved one to this disease, try following the mitigation efforts so we can put this behind us. Acknowledge their grief instead of trying to minimize it. Send a card. Show support. If you’re a praying person, pray for comfort for those affected. And try your best not to stick your foot in your mouth and make someone who is already heartsick feel even worse. I can’t promise I will always succeed, but I am going to give it my best effort. I hope you will, too.

The Spring of Our Discontent

One of my favorite times of year is finally here. It’s spring, and every day the world has more and more color. The browns and grays of winter are replaced by the spring green of new grasses, redbud trees bursting with their special purple-red blooms, wild plum trees covered in white flowers, golden daffodils, tulips of every shade. It is a feast for the eyes, and I can’t get enough of it.

We have much reason to feel hopeful right now for other reasons as well. The COVID pandemic seems to be waning as large numbers of people have received vaccines. The CDC has even recommended that we can stand closer together (3 feet instead of 6) in public places. March Madness is happening, after being abruptly shut down last year. Businesses nationwide are reopening, and there is a palpable feeling of optimism.

This beauty and optimism, however, has been splattered with the horror of mass shootings. It is sickening, saddening, and must be stopped.

I am not a person that thinks no one should own a gun. I live in southeast Oklahoma: home to Bigfoot and a true hunter’s paradise. We have had guns in my home my entire adult life. We keep a .38 special under the mattress should we need it in the middle of the night.

Our Founding Fathers could not have foreseen the weapons of destruction that ordinary Americans now have access to. Weapons that have the capacity to kill a score of innocent people in less than a minute. Weapons not designed for self defense or hunting, but for one thing and one thing only: to kill as many people in as short a time as possible.

I certainly believe in the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. But what about the right to walk into a grocery store without a fear of being gunned down? What about our poor children, who must go through active shooter drills because some madman might decide it is his day to commit carnage? As a child, the thought of someone doing such a thing was nonexistent to me. I realize we live in a different world now, but do these military style weapons make anyone’s quality of life better?

After the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, the state of Connecticut decided to take action after a gunman killed 20 beautiful children and six adults. The state passed a major gun control bill the next year requiring universal background checks for all firearm purchases as well as a ban of high capacity magazine sales (10 rounds or more). Connecticut also banned the sale of over 100 types of guns.

Connecticut was once considered the “arsenal of the nation” because of the arms manufacturers that were based there (Colt, Wesson, Remington, Winchester), but it is no longer home to these companies due to bankruptcy issues or the plants moving to more “arms friendly” states.

There has not been another mass shooting in Connecticut since Sandy Hook.

Where do individual rights end and public safety rights begin? Antonin Scalia, a widely respected conservative Supreme Court justice, once said,  “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited” and that it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” 

Congress has been famously inept at figuring out what to do about mass shootings. Other democracies around the world seem to understand the concept that lack of restrictions on every single type of weapon is a bad idea. Self defense is important, and undoubtedly a constitutional right. But turning our heads and shrugging our shoulders, or sending “thoughts and prayers” to the families of victims has worn altogether so thin that most people roll their eyes (or worse) when they hear this response to yet another mass shooting. Whatever liberties we have in this country have always been tempered by the responsible exercise thereof: there are always duties and parameters that come with freedom. We cannot give impassioned pleas about unborn children’s “right to life” without also addressing our citizens’ right to move about in public places without the fear of never making it home.

Wedding Jitters

I have wedding jitters.

I’m not getting married, in case you were wondering or downright puzzled. My daughter is getting married in a few short months. Because she lives halfway across the country in California, she is doing almost all of the planning herself, so that is pretty easy on me. She is doing what lots of modern brides do: she has an extensive Pinterest board full of thematic colors, ideas for food, decorations, etc. She has ordered her dress– custom made online. She has designed and sent out invitations to the ceremony, a smallish affair of mostly family due to the pandemic and the fact that her family is half a continent away. There is a wedding planner who is helping with all of the minutiae and details that need to be addressed.

So why do I have jitters?

First of all, it’s not because I am worried about who she is marrying. Her fiance is a wonderful young man who makes her wildly happy. They have been together long enough to have a pretty good idea of what each of them is like. They have mutual interests, are getting premarital counseling, and have good jobs. When I see them together, it is obvious they are crazy about each other. They seem to have things together as much as any young couple ever does. And we all know there will be plenty of surprises to come.

When my daughter called and told me the wedding date, the jitters set in. I was caught totally off guard by these feelings. After all, they have been engaged for over two years, and planned to get married sooner, but like everything else in the past year, the pandemic threw a monkey wrench in the planning. So I have had A LOT of time to mentally prepare myself.

So why do I have jitters?

When I think about my daughter getting married, my mind’s eye speeds back to when she was three or four, and used to plan her wedding, or as she called it, The Pink Wedding. She had a flimsy, powder pink nightgown that she thought would make the ideal dress. She was pretty sure she could use a big boom box for the wedding music, and planned to have all pink foods at the reception (not sure what she thought those would be). She had some pink slippers that made dandy wedding shoes, and a tiara encrusted with plastic diamonds that would make any bride proud. Like a sleight of hand from a magician, the memory seems so fresh, but then in an instant, seems a lifetime ago. How did this happen so fast, and why I am I not better mentally prepared?

I think the jitters come from the knowledge that marriage, despite the numerous books, manuals and seminars, is still one of the most unexplainable, mysterious, wonderful relationships in life. I am so fortunate to have married the greatest guy in the world, one who has my back always, supports me, loves me when I am oh so unlovable. We have shared all of the best and the worst of each other, and still, we choose each other. We have faced heartache and death and stupidity and happiness and deep sadness, and have always managed to come out on the other side together. I have always detested the term soulmate, so instead, I would rather say Marty is my best friend for life. We are so very different in so many ways: I grew up in the city, he grew up a country boy; I am an educator, he is an artisan; he loves to ride horses, I love to pet them and watch them; I love to read, he falls asleep if he isn’t up and moving. All of that is inconsequential when it comes to the life we share together, because we decided long ago never to give up on one another.

I have the jitters because I want this so much for my daughter and her husband, to have a lifelong bond with a partner who loves you through it all. Someone who is in it for the long game, because, let’s face it, if you’re married long enough, each of you will do things that a person with any sense wouldn’t allow. You will break each other’s hearts. You will annoy the hell out of each other. You will sometimes wonder why anyone would put up with you, and vice versa. And hopefully, you will cling to each other at times like these because the bond is stronger than whatever is trying to break it.

I have happy jitters because I love a good love story, and I love beginnings. There may be nothing more stirring, more inspiring, than a couple’s excitement about starting a life together. It’s why I pretty much always cry at weddings, and I am pretty sure I will cry at this one.

So, here’s to love, commitment, and the willingness to risk marriage, when the world seems a little crazy and the divorce statistics are grim. My jitters will probably subside at some point, but it is breathtaking watching your child take those first steps in building a life with someone else. It’s a lot like watching them take those first steps as a toddler, the first steps into a class at school, or dropping them off at the dorm for the start of college: a loss and a gain at the same time. I like to believe that the gains are always bigger than the losses, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. Much love to you, Kylie and A.J. May you find that the tie that binds is also the tie that makes you strong.

Dr. Seuss, Mr. B, and Cancel Culture

“I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but here on the bottom we too should have rights.” Yertle the Turtle (1958)

Oh, dear heavens! It has been announced that some of Dr. Seuss’ books will no longer be published. Our country is going to hell in a handbasket (one of my grandma’s favorite sayings). How horrible is it that a national treasure like Dr. Seuss is a victim of Cancel Culture?

Um, wait. Take a breath. Before you go on a tirade about the treatment Dr. Seuss is receiving, take a few moments and get some facts. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, an organization started by his family, has decided to cease publication and sales of six of his much lesser known books, due to a “commitment and broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

In other words, the organization that represents Dr. Seuss made this decision on their own. They weren’t told by any group to stop publishing books. They weren’t pressured by political groups. This decision came after months of discussion last year, and was announced this year.

When I first heard this developing story, I thought of Maya Angelou’s quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I remember as a child of about ten, I once made fun of one of our neighbors who lived down the street. Mr. B had a marked limp due to a childhood bout with polio. He was a wonderful, friendly man who was loved by all the kids in our neighborhood. What possessed me to make fun of his limp one day and imitate his gait is beyond me, but I did. My father, who was watching television in the next room, caught my performance and administered swift justice. After a short lecture on the reasons it is wrong to make fun of a handicapped person, he proceeded to give me the worst spanking in my memory. I got the point, and now that I knew better, I did better. I never made fun of Mr. B again, and am still pretty ashamed to admit this even happened.

It appears that DSE is trying to do better because they realize that some images in these lesser known books are questionably racist and demeaning. No one is questioning the greatness of the bulk of Dr. Seuss’ work– far from it. His family and those who represent him are trying to keep his image from being tarnished by some of his earliest writings.

As a lover of literature and of freedom of expression, I have a problem with books being banned. These, however, are not being banned– they are just being taken out of print. Publishers decide all of the time to cease printing books for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes the subject matter, the style of writing, or the plot perhaps no longer holds up in the present. So, in fairness to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, they made a decision to stop publishing six of the more than fifty books written by Dr. Seuss. If it were the government telling them to stop production, that would be a different problem. This is a private group making a decision that they have been transparent about.

Another troubling aspect of this story is that people have latched onto it and turned it into political fodder. “They” are cancelling books. The “left” is trying to control what you read Let’s post on Twitter about Cancel Culture. And on and on and on. A friend of mine pointed out that she loved Dr. Seuss’ books, but had never heard of these six. It is probably because very few people were buying or reading them. And I also suspect some of the people making a big deal about this don’t care all that much about Dr. Seuss, his books, or what they say. A few years ago, this story wouldn’t have made the news at all. The people who live on Righteous Indignation Street have decided that the Libs are trying to control what they read. Who are these libs? Dr. Seuss’ estate, I suppose.

Our country has plenty of division and problems without making this a bigger story than it is. I would love to see us focus on the good this country has and work toward some solutions to the many problems we face. Or as Dr. Seuss would say:

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”-Oh, the Places You’ll Go

What Am I Afraid Of?

I am a privileged, fortunate person. I live in a nice home, modest by most American standards but very cushy compared with homes of underprivileged people in this world. Our home has central heat and air, and I never worry about where my next meal is coming from. We pay our monthly bills without too much sacrifice. When I go places in public, it never crosses my mind that someone might look at me as dangerous or a problem.

I am privileged. So what am I afraid of?

I see racist institutions and behavior, and want to call it out because it is inherently wrong. I sometimes don’t notice racism because in my comfortable, white bubble, it has been there for so long I don’t even notice. I am in the middle of a dilemma because I am a nice, white person.

A sweet friend of mine shared an article, “Dear Nice White People,” by Austin Channing Brown. In the article, Brown calls out people who are “nice” and don’t think they are racist because their personal behavior doesn’t reflect it. Nice people like me just want racist institutions to go away without having the uncomfortable conversations about how our institutions help perpetuate racism without overtly stating that purpose.

I am thankful my friend shared this article with me. Not only did it step on my toes, it took a hammer to them and smashed them– hard. It pointed out that nice white folks like me don’t speak up because we are afraid. What am I afraid of? Here is part of the answer from the article:

“You are afraid they will talk about you, the way they currently talk about your Black, female co-worker. You are afraid you will fall out of the good graces of those with power. You are afraid of not being invited, of not being favored, of not being liked because there are benefits for being liked. You are afraid you will be labeled ‘the problem,’ the person who is ‘not a team player,’ the one who is going to ruin a good time.”

It felt as if this article was written just for me. The article goes on to tell other reasons nice white people like myself are sometimes afraid to speak up. I too, have been afraid to speak up because it has cost me. When I have written about racism or discrimination in systems, it has been met with praise from some readers, but silence from many others. Sometimes it has been met with vitriol and denial. Usually, though, it has been met with….crickets.

It is so uncomfortable to realize you have supported institutions or ideas that promote injustice. I’m not talking about being a member of the KKK or the Proud Boys. I’m talking about the subtle racism in voter suppression, in the hiring practices of many of our institutions, of churches turning a blind eye to racism in the congregation. I’m talking about sweeping generalizations about Black Lives Matter, and the implication that it is a terrible movement because some people who promote it have done some things they shouldn’t. I’m talking about Christian organizations that want our friends of color to stop talking about racism because it makes them feel so uncomfortable, and besides, haven’t they already pointed it out? Can’t we just move on?

I have had friends shun me on social media, because suddenly I am “liberal.” I am a troublemaker and “confused.” This is somewhat stunning to me, because I try not to write people off who don’t think like me. I have even had a few acquaintances tell me to stop trying to “tell them how to think,” when I presented an idea that opposed their views. I have been saddened when people I have known and loved for years write me off because my ideas challenge their thinking and make them uncomfortable.

I must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am a long ways from being the person I want to be, but I am going to keep trying, because that is the only way I know to make this world better. I am going to keep presenting thoughts and facts that challenge the status quo, because that is how society and culture get better. I have to get past the idea that being nice is enough. And I am going to keep pointing out social injustice when I see it, even if the finger sometimes points back at me.

If you are Christian, you must know that God (and Jesus) was against social injustice and oppression. We know this early in the Bible, because the second book of the Bible, Exodus, is about this very thing. God’s people, who have been living as slaves, leave Egypt for the Promised Land. It is a story full of hardship and sadness. There is tragedy, triumph, misunderstanding, and finally, victory for God’s people. Exodus is full of terrible things, but ultimately, greatness. Our friends of color have been on this journey and are tired. Nice white people like me can help make the journey better, or we can keep our heads in the comfortable sand and make sure things don’t really change. We must get over our fears, continue to have hard conversations and even be willing to be shunned or cancelled, and keep doing the hard work of ending racism in this country, and ultimately, in this world. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

Accentuate the Positive

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between”- Johnny Mercer, 1944

This is a love story of sorts.

When this catchy tune was written, America was in the thick of World War II, which was hardly a time most people were feeling warm and fuzzy. The Great Depression was still a fresh memory in most people’s minds, and everyone knew someone– a family member, a friend, or at least an acquaintance– that had gone away to fight the Axis powers and may not ever be coming home. There was rationing, and women who had spent their lives as homemakers became factory workers, filling positions vacated by men away at war. Polio struck the masses regularly, causing death and disability; the Salk vaccine was still over a decade away. It was hardly a time of hope and sweetness: in many respects, not so different from today.

Our problems are different in 2021, but not so different that we cannot draw parallels. There was much reason for despair in 1944. There is plenty of reason for sadness in 2021. I am writing today to ask you to accentuate the positive. Before you stop reading and think that this is another naive post about positive thinking, bear with me, because it isn’t. It is something else quite entirely.

Kierkegaard said, “Life is a mystery to be lived.” He didn’t say life would be fun, or hard, or exciting, or horrendous, because it is all of those things. As I look back to the very darkest days in my life, when there was so much sadness I thought I would drown in the very mire of it, I realize that I am still standing, still here, still feeling both anguish and love, both hurt and happiness. I have optimism not because I pretend to not see what’s wrong in the world, but because I know that love and kindness win in the end. I have optimism because I know that dark days make the bright ones seem that much more brilliant in comparison.

“You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene.”

These days may be the hardest, most mixed up ones you have ever experienced. There may be many things that you have little or no power to change: illness, loss of employment, betrayal, poverty. Life on even the very best days can be hard, but I hang on to the hope that there are better days ahead. Although I may disagree with others about politics, religion, faith, and what the best movie on Netflix is, I have to remember this:

“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.” Maya Angelou

I don’t always like to think that those who think the opposite of me are God’s creation, but they are. And I must accept that, even though my stubborn spirit wants to say “Hell no!” I have to open my heart and find the good, even when I would rather just write people off. I also hope that those who think I am just this side of the nuthouse will remember this about me, too.

Even though it is currently 3 degrees outside and insanely cold, the sun is shining. And even though I can’t do half the things I would like to do because of the pandemic, I know that the end is in sight. Spring is coming, and this virus will die down. We must look for beauty in the chaos, darkness, and hurt, and most of the time, if we don’t give up, we can find it. Find something or someone to love today, be it a puppy, a person, a good book or a piece of cake. Love the people who are helping those less fortunate, and give money to their causes. Call someone you haven’t talked to lately. Smile at strangers underneath your mask– it will show in your eyes. Live your mystery, and don’t give up. Spring is coming.

An Unlikely American Hero

“We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one,
There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.” -Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

There’s a new kid in town at this weekend’s Super Bowl.

Amanda Gorman, a name very few of us knew before a few weeks ago when she recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the Inauguration on January 20, 2021, has been asked to recite a poem before the most watched sporting event in the world. This is cause for celebration, and for introspection. What is it about what this lovely young woman, who was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, that makes people sit up and take notice?

Gorman reminds us we are Americans, and no matter our politics, we must always strive for unity, justice, and equality. She is the classic steel hand in a velvet glove, using her words like a scalpel, carefully spinning a web of beautiful but sometimes damning images.

She is the the classic story of hope in America.

If one digs a little deeper into her story, Gorman, who was born in Los Angeles and had to overcome a stuttering impediment, has said she has a long term goal of running for president. The Harvard graduate, who is 22 years old, was full of poise and elegance. In discussing her disability, she framed it as a strength that has made her the performer that she always wanted to be.

Even more amazing than Gorman was the poem itself. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what ‘just’ is isn’t always justice.”
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

“And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”

How can one not be stirred by her words? Her message is hopeful without being naive, poetic without being too didactic or difficult. The simplicity of the message is part of her power.

There are too many wonderful images in the poem to share here, but let me just give you one more, one that I intend to remember and strive for:

“If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade,
but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being an American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

Some of you will argue that there is no way we can seek unity right now, that our country is too divided, too polarized. Our past tells us otherwise. There are so many instances in our history when things looked terribly bleak, yet still we worked through the problems and made this country better. There are long lists of events in our history to be proud of, but an equally long list of horrors that must be addressed and dealt with. This is the hard, messy work of democracy. It takes all of us, not just our representatives and leaders, to make this happen.

It took a 22-year-old Black American, the daughter of a single mother and descendant of slaves, to remind us so eloquently of who we are and who we strive to be. The fact that the Super Bowl has chosen to include her the festivities is surprising, momentous, and worth celebrating. I’m not a football fan, but I can hardly wait to hear what she has to say. And even though most people tune in for the poetry in motion on the field (or for the commercials), including Gorman to the program is as American as football.

The Power of Life and Death

This is not a political post. It is a post about decency and how we treat our fellow friends and neighbors, how we treat those we know and those we have never met. I am asking you to consider the power of words, and their ability to destroy as well as to encourage.

The Bible puts it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit-” Proverbs 18:21. Most Christians are familiar with this verse, and even if you’re not a Christian, many of you would agree with its premise: the words we use have power. Power to help. Power to hurt. Power to incite strong feelings of love, hate, kindness and violence.

An incident that happened yesterday sparked these thoughts. President Biden signed an executive order directing federal employees and agencies to refrain from using language that “exhibits or contributes to racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” In more simplistic terms, those who work for federal agencies are prohibited from using terms like “China Virus,” “Kung Flu,” or “Wuhan Virus.” Scrolling through social media last night, I saw several memes from people that noted how this was foolishness, or at its worst, a violation of freedom of speech.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed since last March when the pandemic began. According to Angela Gover, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado, this is not the first time in the U.S that infections have been blamed on immigrant minorities. In the nineteenth century, cholera was referred to as the “Irish Disease.” Jewish people were blamed for the spread of tuberculosis. In the twentieth century, Italian immigrants were often blamed for polio. Many people today are completely unaware that the “Spanish flu” of the early twentieth century did not originate with Spanish people or in Spain.

Also, according to the FBI: “COVID-19 has enabled the spread of racism and created national insecurity, fear of foreigners, and general xenophobia, which may be related to the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.” In the three months after the pandemic started, over 800 discrimination and harassment incidents against Asian Americans in California occurred. Over 800. In three short months. In one state.

When I saw one of these posts decrying Biden’s executive order, I felt compelled to respond. I may have lost my mind for a minute, because I knew the outcome probably wouldn’t be good. It went something like this:

Here is the original post: “So, Biden signed an Executive Order to ban the use of the term “China Virus.”

Here are some of the responses (no grammatical corrections, verbatim):

“China China China my first amendment rights under the constitution says I can say it despite his little pen”

“KUNG FLU”

“The Yellow Man Virus”

“Slanty eyed virus will work”

There are more, but this is a pretty good representation. When I pointed out (when all common sense left me) that the executive order never used the words “China Virus,” I was shot down immediately and told that I was following a socialist agenda, and that censorship is so widespread that I was obviously missing the real point, which is any speech restriction is a violation of our First Amendment rights. I even put a link to the actual executive order, but am pretty sure most of the people using racist language didn’t bother to read it.

I also think a few people may need a refresher on what rights are guaranteed in our First Amendment when it comes to speech.

According to Cornell School of Law, “Although the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause limits government regulation of private speech, it does not restrict the government when the government speaks for itself.”

All of this aside, most of us learned in Kindergarten, in Sunday School, and from our parents that words can cause physical and emotional harm. This is hardly a novel idea. If there is a correlation between using terms like “China Virus” and hate crimes, why would anyone want to use them? You may want to search your heart and ask why there is a need to demonize an entire population.

I am not giving myself a pass in this behavior, either. Although I may not have used these particular terms, I know through the years I have thoughtlessly said things that could be hurtful to others based on ethnicity. I am trying to be more cognizant of doing this, because I don’t want to be part of the problem.

I have no problem with you if your politics don’t agree with mine, and I am not asking anyone to like or dislike Biden. In this country, you have a choice to support candidates of your choosing. But what ethical or moral dilemma are you facing if you simply don’t use derogatory, hurtful terms like “China Virus?” Does it make your life miserable? Are you losing money? Is it really so difficult to use the term COVID-19?

Jesus has stern words for people who don’t control the use of language: “How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” Matthew 12:34-37 (MSG version).

If you are using words to harm JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, you are promoting terrible behavior and racist ideas. Are we so drunk with the idea of individual freedom that we have given up any responsibility for the consequences of our words?

Drops in a Bucket

As I write this, yet another friend is being hospitalized because of the grave condition they are in due to Covid. I am not sure of his exact age, but he is around 50ish and in good health. His family has taken him to the hospital twice; the first time he was sent home because he wasn’t sick enough to be admitted, even though his family was terribly alarmed at the condition he was in and knew that it was serious. Please understand, I am not pointing fingers at the hospital. They are in a terrible, no-win situation, where they must reserve beds for only the most extreme cases, or, in other words, someone who is at death’s door. My friend was finally admitted today because he now fits in the latter category.

I am not here to argue or to accuse. I am here to sound an alarm. Our country is failing at battling Coronavirus because we simply refuse to help those who are vulnerable. Our rights and freedoms are way more important than other people’s health. Wearing a mask is uncomfortable, so to hell with it! I will just take my chances, right? Most people don’t even get that sick. And if I end up infecting someone, well, that’s their problem.

Our country has decided that the vulnerable are not worth sacrifice and effort. We are willing to play Russian roulette with their lives, spreading the virus like confetti and making only minimal efforts to mitigate. If I sound mad and frustrated, it is because I am. Some of my friends, who are Christians and should be leading the way in kindness and in care, are the most resistant to putting effort into mitigating the virus. I cannot even describe how sad this makes me. If we can’t walk alongside one another and help each other, despite whatever differences we have politically, economically, or socially–what chance do we have? Do we really want to still be fighting this virus a year from now, still burying our friends and family who would still be alive if they hadn’t contracted the virus? Quarantining, cancelling group activities, weddings, and so on? Our personal behavior is the ONLY thing that can make this better.

My husband presented me with a great analogy this morning. He said, “Suppose the team you play for is in the Super Bowl. You go into the locker room at half time, and the coach tells you that if you don’t like wearing helmets and pads, just take them off because it is your right as an American. And back in the day, players didn’t wear much padding and seemed to do just fine.”

Would that make any sense? Only if you live in Crazytown.

Every time you wear a mask, social distance, or stay home instead of spending time with a group in public, you are putting drops in a bucket. I heard Melinda Gates use this example when talking about a book she wrote, and I thought it was a nice metaphor. She wasn’t talking about the virus, but it is still a good comparison.

Each time you do a zoom meeting instead of in person, it’s a drop. Getting the vaccine– a major splash. Keeping your distance- another drop. And so on and so on until our bucket is full, and we have wiped this virus out. Every single one of us has a responsibility as a good human to do our part and help put drop after drop after drop in the bucket.

And one more thing– we cannot forget this is a global problem as well. If even one country still doesn’t have the virus under control after the rest of us do, this virus is going to hang around and keep ravaging us. The reason diseases like polio and smallpox have been almost totally eradicated are because of the worldwide efforts to vaccinate. We cannot sit back and act like our work is done even after we get it under control in America, unless we really want this virus to come back and bite us later.

I have written about our Coronavirus response before, so some of you may feel like this is a redundant post. I am not such a fool to believe that every word I write is a pearl and people will follow it. But if you will search your heart, think about your fellow man, and do the right thing, we can resume a (somewhat) normal life in several months. And we can feel like we didn’t take part in killing our friends and neighbors, or at the very least, making them sick. Until we have put this horrible pandemic in our past, we really can’t move forward.

Two Truths and a Lie

An image of one of the Proud Boys at the Capitol. The “6MWE” stands for “6 Million Weren’t Enough”, a reference to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021, will be forever etched in our minds and our history books. Unless you are living under a rock, you are aware that the Capitol building was breached by an angry mob and that five people died as a result of this breach. I will never forget watching this unfold on live television: I sat and wept as I saw what looked like the destruction of democracy in our country.

We, as a country, have been playing the game “Two Truths and a Lie.” In case you are unfamiliar, this is a game played in a group setting, where each person comes up with two truths and a lie about themselves, and can hopefully lie well enough that other group members, including those that know them well, can’t figure out which of the statements shared are false.

Here are what I see as two truths about our country that were emphasized again during the horrendous event at the Capitol this week:

Racism in policing and perception is alive and well. One of the most striking differences in how the police handled Wednesday’s event has been pointed out by many. The protests in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2020 were were met with an aggressive, large police force supplemented by the FBI, National Guard, and other special units. I would also contend that if people protesting had tried to do something like this last summer, they would never have made it inside the building, at least not without extreme force being used. Selfies with the mob by some policemen inside the building, excuses that the Capitol Police did not expect things to turn this way– all show a total lack of leadership by that department. I am not saying that every policeman or woman there is racist. I am saying that racist treatment is highlighted by the fact that all sorts of warning signs over what might happen were ignored by leadership. Many officers acted heroically and did their jobs as they were directed. Some did not.

Religious leaders do not belong in politics. I am a Christian. I am also an American. When Christian leaders began to get involved in politics and tried to gain influence over legislation and leaders, the purpose was to grab power, which goes completely against all of Jesus’ teaching. He was never interested in power, and warns against the lure of power in the New Testament. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Attempts to try to strongarm our leaders to follow a Christian agenda have caused more problems than they have solutions. The desire for power in our government by some well meaning, but misguided evangelical Christians have hurt the message of Christ and caused damage that may be irreparable.

The statements above are the truth. Here is the lie:

I can support Donald Trump’s policies without supporting his rhetoric. What he says doesn’t really matter as long as he supports policies I agree with. The problem with this statement is that WORDS MATTER. Anyone paying attention to the days and weeks leading up to the Trump rally on January 6 could see mounting problems and promises of violence. This consistent lie that has been repeated by so many people is, in a large part, what made the horrific events at the Capitol possible. It gave Trump a free pass to lie, demean and bully whenever he wanted. It gave him the unchecked effort to manipulate his supporters into believing the lie that he won the election, even though virtually every legal challenge failed and there has been no credible evidence of widespread fraud presented in a court of law. He has repeatedly made incendiary statements that inflamed fringe groups like Proud Boys and QAnon to believe they needed to take violent action against our government. His constant references to anyone who doesn’t follow him as the enemy have caused a huge number of people to believe the lie that everyone who doesn’t agree with him is Communist, Socialist, or worse.

This is not to say that every person at the protest January 6 went there with a violent purpose in mind. Most of the people at the protest were people who love this country and want to see change. Many of you who support Trump want to believe that what happened Wednesday was attributable to Antifa, BLM, or other groups. The truth is that much of the blame lies on Donald Trump’s shoulders, as well as the congressmen and women who chose to give credence to the lies he and his sycophants have incessantly repeated. The rest of the blame is on all of us.

Why is the blame on all of us? Well, for starters, our dialogue in this country has devolved into retreating into a corner with like-minded people and throwing verbal grenades at the other side. The only thing that has done for our country is to divide us further. I am as guilty as anyone else of doing this. In fact, Wednesday morning I had to apologize to a friend for making a flip comment on a post she had made that was entirely unnecessary and unfair. We must commit as a nation to listening to each other ,to having hard conversations with people on the other side, and to trying to understand why they believe the way they do. It doesn’t mean we will agree on everything. It doesn’t mean the conversations will be without strong feelings. As one of my conservative friends said, “I won’t be joining hands with everyone and singing ‘Kumbaya’.” But we must be willing to seek understanding and try to work together. Our democracy won’t survive if we don’t.

On a final note: please understand that groups like QAnon thrive on playing a game very similar to Two Truths and a Lie. They are masters at wrapping a total lie in a couple of truths so that is hard to separate one from the other. Donald Trump has done the same thing: he will often, in his rhetoric, wrap a total lie with a few true statements. He then repeats the lies so much that he, along with his supporters, believe the lie because they have heard it so many times. This behavior was one of the main reasons a protest, which could have remained peaceful, turned into a day of infamy in the citadel of our democracy.

Let’s all take responsibility for what happens next. Let’s talk to one another and listen to one another. Let’s stop posting crap on social media that we have not checked for validity just because it supports what we want to believe. And let’s get back on the road of trying to heal the serious problems of racism, tribalism, and division in our country.

It’s time to stop playing games.

The Christmas present that changed my life

Sometimes events happen that we don’t realize the importance of until much, much later. A $50 Christmas bonus check during my freshman year of college was the start of something life-changing for me.

As an entering freshman at the University of Oklahoma, I was awarded a work study job to help pay for college. Getting a job was required for me, a girl who had no financial help from her parents (four in college at the same time made it impossible for my parents to help much, so they wished each of us well and cheered us on), so I began the process of looking for a job.

My first interview went poorly, to say the least. It was in the School of Business, and they were looking for a crackerjack typist. I could type, but was average at best. They had me take a speed test and I could tell they were unimpressed. I left feeling a little defeated.

My second interview was with a music theory professor in the School of Music. I checked in at the main office, and the secretary sent me to Holmberg Hall 212. I knocked on the door, and was welcomed into the office of a gray haired, serious looking woman. She asked me if I knew how to type. My heart sank. I told her yes, but I was just pretty average, so if she was looking for a speedy typist, I probably wasn’t a good fit for the job. She looked at me with kind eyes, and asked a second question:

“Do you know how to read music?” she asked. I had played the flute in the sixth grade, and had continued to play just for fun in high school. “Yes, I can read music,” I answered. She explained that part of my job would be finding music in the OU Music Library, so it would be necessary for me to take sheet music with me to find the exact part of a piece she needed recorded for her classes. This was a little mystifying to me, so I didn’t ask any questions. She seemed satisfied that these were the two skills needed for the job, so she told me to fill out the necessary paperwork downstairs, and I would start the first day of classes. I would make $2.00 an hour, which was 40 cents above minimum wage. I was elated.

My new boss was Dr. Gail de Stwolinski, whom I found out later was considered one of the finest theory professors in the nation. I was an English major, so walking into the School of Music was like landing on Mars at times. I found out quickly that “Dr. Dee”, as her students called her, was one busy lady. I would walk into her office after class, and there would be a long list of duties for me: photocopy papers, record numerous pieces of music onto cassette tapes (a new technology in 1974), pick up lunch from the sandwich shop on campus corner, etc. I tried my best to do everything she asked of me, and by Thanksgiving, I felt a rhythm in our relationship: I would come in and get her tasks done, she would come in at some point to return phone calls, work, and chain smoke. She would always thank me for working hard, but I really just thought what I was doing was fun, and I was making $2.00 an hour! After Thanksgiving, Glenda in the main office looked at me and said, “She must really like you.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked. She replied, “Because by this point in the semester, all her other assistants have either quit or were fired.” I was stunned, but also secretly proud.

As the semester ended, I went to work for the last time until after Christmas break. Dr. Dee was in her office, smoking and working on one of her many projects. She handed me an envelope, and told me Merry Christmas. I took it but didn’t quite know whether or not I should open it, so I tucked it in my books for later. I wished Dr. Dee Merry Christmas, and headed back to my dorm room to get ready to go home for the break. When I opened the envelope, it held a check for $50.

Fifty dollars was more than a week’s pay at my job. I sat down on my bed to keep from falling. I sobbed tears of relief and joy. At that moment, I had literally 75 cents in my purse, and maybe two dollars in my checking account. No money for Christmas presents for my family. No money for anything. It would be like getting $50,000 today.

That was the beginning of the ways Dr. Dee changed my life. Soon after this, I filed for financial aid for the upcoming school year. For whatever reason, I didn’t qualify for work study for my second year, which meant the end of this particular job. Dr. Dee wasn’t having it, though. She wanted me to work for her. She devised a plan where she set up a bank loan to me, through her husband, who was president of a local bank board. They “loaned” me the money, then immediately paid the loan off for me. She did this for the next two years. Please understand, I am a realist: there were other students out there that could do this job as well as I did. Dr. Dee saw something in me she wanted to encourage and support, and was willing to give her own money to see that happen.

Not only did she bail me out financially, Dr. Dee showed me the tremendous impact one woman could have in a community. She was the first woman at OU to hold the position of president of the faculty senate. She wrote a nationally-recognized textbook while I was working for her. She invited me to Sunday dinners which were attended by some of the most respected in their areas on the OU campus. She continually counselled students in her office over personal and practical struggles. She was my mentor, friend, and role model.

Gail de Stwolinski fostered a confidence in me that didn’t exist up to that point in my life. It all started with a $50 bonus check at Christmas. May she rest in power. And may all of you receive a bonus in your life that helps you learn that you, too, are so valuable and special in your own way.

Merry Christmas!

Dr. Gail de Stwolinski, sitting at her desk in the office that changed my life.